During his homily at the Mass installing him as Pope, John Paul II said, “Open wide the doors to Christ.” During his 27-year reign, John Paul II did much to open up the Catholic Church in the modern world. He is the most widely traveled pope ever (in fact, one of the most widely-traveled world leaders ever), having visited nearly 130 countries. He is credited with contributing to the growth of the Solidarity movement and the fall of communism in Eastern Europe and with improving ecumenical relations with the other great religions of the world. In 2000, John Paul II visited the Western Wall in Jerusalem, leaving a letter inside it in which, on behalf of all Christians, he asked forgiveness from the Jewish people for crimes against them throughout history. He visited with the Dalai Lama eight times, and in 2001 was the first pope to pray in a mosque. Born Karol Wojtyla in Poland in 1920, he suffered many personal losses and hardships in his childhood; both his parents and his brother died by the time he was 20. He survived the Nazi occupation of Poland, attending an underground seminary and helping to protect Polish Jews. He displayed many talents in his young adult years — he was an athlete and an actor, earned two doctorates (one in theology and one in philosophy), and published plays and poetry. Throughout his papacy, John Paul II drew large crowds, especially to World Youth Day. Presiding at his funeral, Pope Benedict XVI called him, “the Great” John Paul II, and his beatification process began a month after his death. John Paul II’s papacy demonstrated what it meant to spread the Gospel in the modern world. His feast day is October 22.
Quotes: “The question confronting the Church today is not any longer whether the man in the street can grasp a religious message, but how to employ the communications media so as to let him have the full impact of the Gospel message.”
“Do not be afraid to go out on the streets and into public places like the first apostles who preached Christ and the Good News of salvation in the squares of cities towns and villages. This is no time to be ashamed of the Gospel. It is time to preach it from the rooftops.”
Questions for Reflection:
- Pope John Paul II was a dynamic and popular spiritual figure during his lifetime. What do you think makes someone a good spokesperson for the Gospel? When have you experienced the Gospel preached effectively in today’s world?
- Pope John Paul II was sometimes criticized for his conservative views on some social issues. Where do you find the line between embracing tradition and embracing the “signs of the times”? How do you form and listen to your conscience?